The TC Palm – Martin County will spend $161K on All Aboard Florida-related studies; All Aboard requests numerous
Posted on March 19, 2015
Martin County is building its case against All Aboard Florida.
Commissioners — who have pledged a total of $1.4 million to fight the private railroad company — on Tuesday unanimously agreed to spend $161,000 gathering potential evidence for legal action. The county earlier this month committed $80,000 for outside legal counsel to help challenge the $3 billion Miami-to-Orlando project. All Aboard Florida plans 32 high-speed passenger trains through the Treasure Coast daily beginning in early 2017.
All Aboard Florida is also fact finding.
The company, through an attorney, has submitted public-records requests to Martin County that Commission Chairman Ed Fielding describes as “absolutely onerous.”
The requests — for letters, reports, studies and other documents — could take the county staff a “couple hundred hours” to fill, according to Mike Durham, county attorney.
Indian River County — which last month dedicated $2.7 million to fight All Aboard — received similar requests, according to county records.
Spokeswoman Lynn Martenstein confirmed All Aboard Florida is seeking public records, but refused to say why. The company asked for the information in two separate requests — one focuses on public safety, the other on environmental issues. Martenstein declined to say if All Aboard Florida plans to file additional requests.
One quarter of the $161,000 approved Tuesday will be spent to investigate All Aboard Florida’s claim that the St. Lucie River train bridge in Stuart is structurally sound and can handle increased train traffic.
The bridge and its effects on the marine industry could come into play in a federal lawsuit, according to Martin County’s outside counsel Stephen Ryan.
Martin County for months has asked bridge owner Florida East Coat Railway for safety reports on the nearly 100-year-old drawbridge, but the freight line — which would share its tracks and the bridge with sister company All Aboard Florida — refused. Requests to state and federal agencies also were unsuccessful, according to the county.
Now, Martin County plans to spend up to $40,000 on an underwater study of the bridge’s construction and mechanics. The county first must consult with the railroad, but Deputy Engineering Director Terry Rauth said she believes FEC will allow the study.
FEC lacks a lease for the submerged land beneath the bridge, so “there shouldn’t be a problem,” Rauth said.
The county’s study would be the second local investigation of the train bridge: Citizens Against Rail Expansion, a group of Palm Beach and Treasure Coast homeowners associations better known as CARE, last year studied All Aboard Florida’s potential impact on several bridges, including the St. Lucie.
CARE and Martin County — both represented by Ryan — will share bridge studies, according to Brent Hanlon, CARE treasurer.
Legal action by Martin County could challenge FEC’s claim that it owns all of the land under its tracks. The county will spend up to $25,000 studying eminent- domain issues and up to $30,000 researching railroad corridor maps in preparation, according to Durham.
“We need to get this totally mapped out,” Durham said. “We’re going to be negotiating all these (railroad crossing) lease agreements.”
Martin County in the last five years has paid more than $1 million to FEC and its affiliates for costs associated with railroad crossings, according to public records.
A charter granted by Florida in 1895 established FEC’s right to the corridor, according to Robert Ledoux, railroad senior vice president.
The county on Tuesday also approved $20,000 to study All Aboard Florida’s effects on local transportation, $30,000 to study its effects on cultural and historic resources and up to $15,750 to hire a special adviser to provide ongoing All Aboard Florida-related guidance to the county administrator.
Martin County determined what information to pursue following a March 5 meeting with Ryan, who successfully fought a railroad expansion project in Minnesota.